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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    Welcome to Spring! School Out of Doors

    March 11, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    When I wrote my post on Ambleside a couple weeks ago, I inadvertently stumbled into reassessment. This happens when I least expect it; I haven’t picked up Norms and Nobility for almost a month! However, comma, reading Anne White’s article Who Was Charlotte Mason? really got me thinking.

    And what I’ve been thinking about is this:

    Outdoor life is necessary to teach nature first-hand, which means plenty of time spent out of doors each day in all weather and in different environments for students of all ages. “School” for children younger than six consisted almost entirely of time spent outdoors.


    Welcome to Spring! School Out of Doors


    I was suddenly flooded with memories of the time when I had first discovered Ms. Mason’s work. We lived in a house with dirt for a backyard. I spent many mornings hauling one child — and later, two children — over to my parents’ house. While Number Two slept peacefully in their crib, Number One and I were outside. I’d bring books, a list of phone calls I needed to make, whatever I could think of so that we could be outside the entire time. In addition, we played nature games. For instance, he would have to go somewhere and study something — a flower or a tree — and try to describe it to me well enough that I could guess what it was. Alternately, I would describe something to him and he would run away and try to point at what I had described without my first indicating its location.

    I still remember his happy, joyous face. He delighted in such a simple game.

    When we began “real school” after his sixth birthday, he still went outside, along with at least one sister, but I was busy inside. We had a newborn. The youngest three children were three and under. I was tired. Did I mention I was busy?

    And so those out of door days seemingly slipped away from me, save the occasional nature journalling time. This became the new habit.

    As I was reading about “school” for the under-six set, I realized {Hello? Is anybody home?} that the majority of my children are under six. And yet what I am doing with them each day resembles what an over-six crowd should be doing more than anything else.

    For now, Number Four is sleeping through morning lessons. But he is my most dynamic child yet. This week, during his awake time I found him:

    1. On top of the dining table, pondering the possibility of throwing my vase to the floor.
    2. Choking on his big sister’s vitamin, which she had neglected to take, and he had stolen from her placemat on said dining table.
    3. Emptying the drawer in which I keep plastic baggies of various sizes.
    4. Scooting a child-sized rocking chair into the kitchen so that he could scale the kitchen counters.
    5. Emptying the new bookcase of its contents.
    6. Unfolding all my folded laundry.

    And so on and so forth, and the week is only half over. What will I do with him next year when he is awake during lessons?

    I think I found my answer, at least for some of the time.

    I mentioned recently that my husband is making sure we have a covered patio before spring is in full force. I have decided to try having Circle Time out of doors, at a table on the patio {or, on our laps if we cannot find a used table to purchase}. What I imagine is that, next year, my two youngest children will spend all morning outside, and the older two and I will join them there for at least part of our lessons. If Number Four needs to run around during Circle Time, I am very inclined to allow it, as long as he is present during Bible reading and prayer, and comes back later for the hymn singing.

    This might also help me put Nature Study into Circle Time, a place I have always felt it belonged. We are blessed with ten months of outdoor weather per year, give or take a month, and I think I have been wasting it all this time.

    No matter. We’ll turn over a new leaf after the patio project is complete.

    All of this reminded me of my favorite book ever, Poetic Knowledge. Allowing children under six to exist in a manner distinct from that of an older child {not that older children don’t ever experience play, or younger children don’t ever experience the great indoors, but as a general rule}, is based on the idea that childhood, and specifically early childhood, has its own attendant duties and goals. In Poetic Knowledge we see, for instance, the idea of words as symbols. Early childhood is for building concrete knowledge, intimate knowledge of real things, the things which words symbolize. So it is not enough to let them “run free” out of doors, but Charlotte Mason, for instance, would have Mother there to take advantage of every learning opportunity, to answer every small question about every flower and bird and tree.

    Moreover, James Taylor would have each student cultivate wonder, and he has worked hard to stimulate wonder in older students whose wonder was killed by modern educational methods. What seemed obvious to me in reading the book was that said students missed out on something by not getting to cultivate wonder and awe at the appropriate time, which is to say in childhood. Taylor writes:

    Of course, there is real effort required at some point in learning, and often great effort is required to learn something well. But this is a situation that arises after the experience of wonder — if it arises at all — and the exertion for this kind of learning is usually in the student on the way to becoming a specialist or expert. And, even in the case of the specialist, the true scientist for example, there would always be the memory of the original love of the thing about which he first wondered. Consider again Pasteur, Fabre, and the Faraday in this light. They all retained the initial vision of the beginner, the amateur, the one who loves.

    This is one of the things I want for all of my children: memories of their original loves, of delight. I want them to have a golden feel about their childhoods when they are grown, and I want all of their intellectual development to stem from wonder and awe.

    That is an ideal and a tall order, to be sure.

    I have a hunch that lessons out-of-doors will help me retain this for my younger children, while allowing my more mature {relatively speaking} students to enjoy the breeze even during their more formal lessons.


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  • Reply Kathy Livingston March 8, 2015 at 4:29 am

    We school outdoors whenever possible! Patio furniture is really not needed. Chairs are nice but not required. I am looking forward to moving school outside again this week!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 8, 2015 at 1:47 pm

      I am, too, Kathy! We did some earlier in February, and then it rained off and one for a couple weeks. But this week is supposed to be in the 80s. I can do school and work on my tan at the same time. 😉

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts March 14, 2010 at 4:16 am


    If you end up taking school out to the deck, I would love to hear how it works for you! Hopefully, our patio will be done next week, and I am scouring Craigslist for furniture in our price range (i.e., almost free). 🙂

    It seems like every family I’ve met has at least one child that stands out as “into everything” and higher energy. For us so far, that seems to be O. He is doing things the others did, but with more zeal. 🙂 And also with more intensity. I keep thinking, Every time I turn around… And it’s true. 🙂

  • Reply Wendi March 13, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    I do find my 3yo (third and youngest child) in many situations that I have never found my others in…I’m not sure what it is about moving short furniture to places where it can then be used to climb onto taller furniture (counters, tables) and do dangerous things!

    I love your idea about taking school outside! We have finally gotten into a routine of having a morning circle time (and we love it!) and I do think it could easily be moved onto our back deck once spring arrives in our area (hopefully soon). We do get morning sun back there, but it does become partially shaded by mid-morning.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts March 12, 2010 at 5:13 am

    You know, I think it is just that my girls were very mild when it came to this sort of thing. So, basically I disciplined them once and they never did it again, or at least didn’t do it again for a few months. I vaguely remember E. doing this sort of thing, but that was six years ago, so I’m a little muddled, and during that time we lived in a house with five adults (Si and I, my parents, and a foreign exchange student, too) and only one child, so it wasn’t that overwhelming…

    We did school at the park once, too, and it was a big hit. I remember reading some of Beatrix Potter and it just seemed so appropriate for outside! But I have only done that once or twice, also. Some of it is the hassle, but some of it is also that they insist on running the sprinklers during the time I would want to go.

  • Reply Mystie March 12, 2010 at 4:33 am

    None of your other three did stuff like that at that age?! My first two are not rambunctious, but all of my 14-20 month (approximately, of course) children have been into every drawer and bag and basket, even though we do train and discipline for it. They do get over it, but I think expending energy outside would be a great help!

    I am looking forward to buying patio furniture at some point so we can do school outside, too. One day last summer we took our bin of books and clipboards with our papers to the park. That was fun, and not too difficult, but I still only got around to doing it once. 🙂

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